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Local school districts prepared for school closures due to staffing shortages, if needed

KBOI Boise logo KBOI Boise 1/11/2022 Ariana Pyper
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The McCall-Donnelly School District will be closed for a second-straight day on Tuesday. The district is dealing with transportation and staffing shortages.

A spokesperson says 15 to 20 percent of its staff called out of work, and two bus routes couldn't be covered due to a lack of drivers.

I reached out to other local school districts and asked about staffing, and what plans administrators have in case Omicron also overwhelms them.

As of Monday, the Nampa School District had about 99 leave requests and 35 classrooms that are being covered by other staff members, which may include principals, assistant vice principals, secretaries, and other teachers. 

"We simply don't have enough people to cover those and so this is a problem we saw early fall," said Kathleen Tuck, Nampa School District communications director. 

Bus drivers in the district have also continued to be short-staffed.

"As we have now returned from Christmas break, COVID and flu have hit us, coupled with being short-handed already. We have not been in a position that would prompt the Nampa School District to consider closing. I hope and pray that it does not happen," said Brent Carpenter, Brown Bus Company operations manager. 

Tuck says the district will only close a school if a certain amount of teachers call out.

"We do have some framework we go from. We are looking at about 20 percent of teachers gone at an elementary school and about 15 percent of teachers gone at a high school but it really depends on the particular school and the numbers there," Tuck said.

The district is still looking for substitute teachers.

"We have about 300 substitute teachers on the books but at any given time we only get about a third of them who say yes," Tuck said.

Tuck says the district would only do remote learning under extreme circumstances.

"We recognize that presents a lot of challenges for our families so we are trying to keep schools open, we are trying to keep schools running, and keep kids in classes," Tuck said.

Over at West Ada, 22 teachers are out with COVID-19.

"We have seen our numbers trending upward as far as staff absences go, since just before the break began, so we are kind of following that nationwide trend for the virus spiking again," said Char Jackson, West Ada chief communication officer.

Jackson says the district hasn't had to close any schools this year but has had to make some adjustments.

"We've kind of come up with creative solutions to make things work for example our custodians have shared buildings so we have spread them out a little more when necessary," Jackson said.

The district is continuing to look for more substitute teachers to help out.

"We invite any parent or community member who is even slightly interested in substituting to please get ahold of the district office," Jackson said.

Jackson stressed the importance of keeping kids home from school when they are sick.

"If your child is sick please keep them home. We do offer testing here at the district office for students and staff, so you can easily and quickly get a test and that will let you know whether you're positive or not and how long you have to quarantine. It just helps us get students and staff back in the classroom," Jackson said.

A spokesperson with the Emmett School District says so far, they have been able to handle COVID-related staff vacancies but Monday is the first day back in the classrooms.

"If our numbers escalate, as indicated in our plan, then we would close a school on a case-by-case basis for a limited period of time and we would use distance learning to fill in those gaps if necessary. We are watching the state and local numbers and we're bracing for a surge, based on what we've seen in other areas. Our continued messaging to our staff, students and parents are: 'Please stay home if you are sick. Please remember to wash frequently to reduce the spread of the virus,'" said Vickie Holbrook, Emmett School District public information officer.

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